The rain started as I was stepping off the bus in Haridwar (from Sahrampur) and I went to look for a taxi to Rishikesh. (I was booked into a Yoga Centre.) “You want taxi?” asked an old man repairing a rickshaw. “Yes, to Rishikesh.” He nodded. I sheltered under a verandah with a man selling bananas. I bought a banana and his friend came to join us. We had the usual Where you come from ? Nodding. Smiling. You alone Aunty? (I do wish they wouldn’t call me Aunty). Eventually a rattly old Ambassador arrived. “Rishikesh? 750rps.” “Is that your best price?” I asked feebly. “Long way, fixed price.” Ok. Then banana man’s friend said “Why you no bargain?” Because I couldn’t be bothered. The taxi took an hour.
Rishikesh has been famous for yoga and its many ashrams since the Beatles stayed there in the Sixties with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. There is a huge Hindu festival happening at the moment and hundreds of pilgrims clad in orange are arriving every day to worship Shiva and bathe in the great Ganga river.
The town is on both sides of the river with two pedestrian suspension bridges (jhula) crossing it. The taxi dropped me on the west and I needed to be on the east. He carried my heavy case down very steep wet stairs, (“Be careful Aunty!” Thanks.) and I walked across. The bridges are about 4’ wide and you walk on wide slats of concrete which rumble . It was quite exciting with the rain pouring down and the river racingfg beneath. Pulling my case wasn’t so easy, with motorbikes and cows and hand-carts to negotiate and pilgrims stopping to take group photographs.
I rang the ashram from a shop and they sent a motorbike to pick me up - him, my vast case, and me. (‘Please God don’t let me tip this thing up, or go shooting off the back...’) And so, safe and sound, I arrived at Rishikesh Yog Peeth. It was Sunday, so no classes. My room was in another hotel, round the corner. Not The Ritz, but it was fine, with a fan and private bathroom. Several students were staying in this annexe and the only drawback was the narrow path which lead there from the centre, and negotiating the cowpats in the dark after supper.
Classes are at 6.30am and 6.30pm. Most students were on a 6-week teaching course and I joined a 3-week course, but only for 5 days. It was great, but hard as I haven’t done any yoga for 10 years and was by far the oldest person there... Not my finest hour, but I want to carry on with it. I had two ayurvedic massages – excellent , particularly the second because I was quite seized up after a couple of days. .. It was SO hot and the classes called for maximum exertion... most days I had 4 or 5 showers - cold, no hot water.
Electricity is unreliable in Rishikesh – as in lots of places – and one night when the power failed and the generator also went off I woke boiling at 4am and wandered outside. Just as hot. A foam rubber mattress can feel like a griddle pan. It was quite a job keeping pace with the hand washing. Apart from over-heating, I loved it – for those who want to take their yoga up a notch, visit www.rishikeshyogpeeth.com .
Annette, a pianist from Austria and my neighbour, and I explored the town and paddled in the ghats where others bathed. The whole place was buzzing with activity and people selling spices and souvenirs and ayurvedic remedies... and hundreds of plastic containers . Why?
I visited an ayurvedic doctor– lovely Dr Arora – and, without boring you with the details of my bodily functions, think I really made life-changing discoveries... (!) The other thing that kept me busy was organising my onward trains.. not wanting to be caught out as I had been getting from Jammu to Rishikesh.